I had a moment yesterday, when I realised that I have been in a slump for the first half of this year.
I left my job because I no longer found the work fulfilling. Our start up is into capital raising mode — which is a grind at best and soul crushing on a daily basis. I’ve been able to do small projects and give some presentations, which have been fun and interesting, but ultimately short lived.
However, neither the work (before I left), or the capital raise is or was intellectually stimulating. Mentally draining, yes; and an absolutely necessary evil requirement to get to the more intellectually stimulating parts. But in the daily grind, there are more times when I will stare at my screen, trying to find the will to do all the things I like doing least.
To find a mental escape, I have been scratching at the surface of doing a PhD. Over the last three months, I’ve been meeting people and discussing my ideas with them to try and find the starting point of an area of exploration. I have joked in the past that I am the only one in my family without a PhD and while that’s true, there is something appealing about being able to explore a topic of substance and depth without the worries of business. I know that it is a ludicrous undertaking but it’s been the small colourful glimmer in an otherwise grey landscape.
Tied to that, I was also given an opportunity to discuss work with an organisation that is both well known and respected. It would have been different to my usual work, but valuable (for both what it provided me and what I could provide them) and would open up new possibilities.
Neither of these had to be decided right now, they were exploratory conversations, to get the lay of the land and then make choices about what I wanted to combine as the next stage of my career.
For me, a slump is tied to motivation. And I recognised that most of this year has been demotivating. I have learned that I worked in peaks and troughs. At my peak, I work harder and faster than most — and I genuinely love those moments and the work I do. In the troughs, I know that I both find work difficult and am difficult to work with.
Troughs are usually short lived, but I realised this is both the longest and the deepest one I’ve been in.
The evidence for this came when I got around to interviewing for the work opportunity. And I completely messed it up. It wasn’t a case of oh-so-close, I probably could have set a chair on fire and left a better impression. Five minutes after I left, I knew what I should have said, but I was disappointed and embarrassed by how it went. When I am motivated, I can think fast, I can problem solve and I can talk with confidence. When that motivation is gone, I second guess myself, I am nervous and long winded with my fragmented thoughts. And my answers were basically War and Peace after someone had dropped the pages and put them back together in the wrong order.
That was the second phone call yesterday. The first was to say that a scholarship had been freed up for me to pursue the PhD and I could apply for it — but it had to be soon. It was the opportunity to grasp that colourful glimmer and light up the grey landscape. But I had to turn it down.
The economic reality of a PhD scholarship is pretty brutal. Particularly without secure secondary work, to take a pay cut to what amounts to 1/3 of a wage for three years, particularly as doing that would limit how much time I could devote to Health Delivered was not something I could rightfully own. The company comes first. I wanted to say yes so badly, but the sacrifice is too great and would be lumping me with financial worry, when I want to pursue the PhD for intellectual freedom.
So back to back, those conversations hit me hard. One I had to say no to, the other saying no to me. Collectively, closing doors that I had worked hard to open.
I sat on the couch and nearly cried. I’m not great with my emotions. I have been called a robot before. But what people see on the outside is not what goes on in my head. I wear every emotion ten fold. I grapple with my own and I sense and internalise others. But I try hard to keep it together because I’m not sure what letting it all go will do.
If I look back over the last four years, I’ve worn a lot from trying to start a company. While it’s taught me infinite amounts and provided opportunities I’d never have gotten otherwise, starting a business is like getting frequently sucker punched. And I know what that feels like in real life — the only difference being this time I’m not in hospital getting my face stitched back together.
I pride myself on my ability to bounce back. But something about those blows yesterday left me reeling. They were different, and I’m not sure why.
In that depth I was able to fully acknowledge the slump that I’m in, rather than trying to dance around the subject. Usually when I write, it’s to wrap up a subject with a thing that I’ve learned and want to document. That isn’t the case right now — rather it’s just to call out that this is where I’m at and now I know, I can move on with it. I needed to write because I needed to produce something, just to remind myself that it’s possible.
When I am able to produce work, my mind starts to free up to make decisions about what to do next.
I decided that I will still pursue a PhD, but on my own terms, and when it makes sense to my career. I decided that if I’m ever in a position to repeat that interview (or one similar), I will own it. And I decided that, although there is a lot of down time right now, rather than wallow on the couch, I will go outside and make the most of the free time I have.
So while I hit the canvas hard yesterday, I don’t want to stay down for the count. I’ll wear this and whatever comes next. Because when I have motivation, one thing I am good at is stitching together a future I’m excited about.